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On June 17, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz eliminated three firefighter positions in order to reserve funds for potential above-budget increases in the new firefighters’ contract. After what he termed “productive” negotiations earlier this year, the two sides went to mediation with no resolution and have now gone to arbitration.
In a statement on June 17, Mr. Bobkiewicz said he did this because the budget for the present year would not allow for expenditures for fire department employees beyond what was budgeted for union employees. Since the arbitrator’s award is as yet uncertain, he said he would use the money saved by eliminating the three positions for potential unplanned adjustments in salaries and benefits from the arbitrator’s award.
The union responded on June 18 and 19 by leafleting the City with flyers that said the cuts posed a danger to life and property in the City, saying “Stop the City from putting your life and property in danger.”
On June 21, the majority of speakers during the citizen comment portion of the City Council meeting addressed the City’s and the union’s maneuvers. Janet Alexander Davis said she objected to what she termed the firefighters’ “scare tactics.”
Ms. Davis said, “I say to the union, ‘Make your case, but do not use scare tactics. … You are one of many in the City government and City services that must share in the sacrifice of budget cuts.’ … If we are to hold on to services we cannot afford, we might as well not hire a fiscally responsible City Manager and a City Council with guts.”
Christine Young took the other side. “In the 135-year history of the Evanston Fire Department, not one firefighter has been laid off,” she said. She referred to the national standards that the Evanston Fire Department must follow and said she was concerned that an accountant would be the one to suggest safe levels of staffing.
“You have approved high-rise buildings,” she told the Council members. “You should approve the safety of these buildings.”
At that meeting, Mr. Bobkiewicz said that before the arbitration began, then Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky, then Deputy Chief (now Interim Chief) Greg Klaiber and he met with union officials to mediate the differences.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said that while the union was willing to make some economic concessions, they asked for “new permanent language that would require any change in minimum staffing of the department to become a mandatory subject of bargaining. The City could not agree to this fundament change in management rights and a deal was not reached,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Contracts for the firefighters, police and AFSCME were all in negotiations this year, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Two of these – the police and AFSCME – were able to agree on terms that fit within the budget allocations. A protracted arbitration with the police (teamsters) union “was recently resolved with a three-year agreement going back to March 1, 2009, which met the allocated budget for [fiscal year] 2010/11 and provides for salary increases in [fiscal years] 2011/12,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
The elimination of the three firefighter positions “will effectively reduce our daily staffing of firefighters by one position, from 26 to 25,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Interim Fire Chief Greg Klaiber prepared several scenarios to deal with the reduced firefighter/paramedic force. Council members did not discuss them on June 21.